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'South Pacific' at the Boston Opera House

Posted by Nicole Cammorata  September 28, 2011 02:17 PM

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[Marcelo Guzzo and Katie Reid in Rodgers & Hammerstein's South Pacific // Photo by Peter Coombs]

The thing I love most about old musicals like "South Pacific" is that they're so dated -- I mean that in a good way, stick with me here -- and exist in such a specific period of time that it's so easy to lose yourself in what's happening on stage. The costumes, the songs, the romance and aura of a decade long gone by, and the saga of a war we are now more than 60 years removed from, all contribute to this.

I caught the opening performance on Sept. 27 and fell under the spell of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, set on a WWII military base in -- you guessed it -- the South Pacific. It follows a naive military nurse from Little Rock named Nellie (played by Katie Reid) who has fallen in love with a worldly French plantation owner with a few skeletons in the closet.

Of course liking a musical like this, which originally premiered in 1949, means getting a glimpse into the way the world was during the decade in which the play is set. For instance, the visible separation between the black and white soldiers on stage, Nellie's open disgust at the Frenchman's former relationship with a native woman, and the character Bloody Mary (Cathy Foy-Mahi), a native woman who peddles her wares on the beach and tries to pawn off her young daughter on one of the officers. That officer, of course, is Lt. Joseph Cable, a central character in "South Pacific," played by Abington native Shane Donovan. Lt. Cable strolls onto the scene looking very much like a WWII version of Tom Cruise in "Top Gun," with his aviator sunglasses and leather flight jacket.

If Donovan's Cable is world-weary and self-assured, Reid's Nellie is wide-eyed and hopeful, charming and gawky. She's all elbows and knees during the iconic tune "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" after she tells the other nurses she's giving the Frenchman the old heave-ho. (A promise she doesn't keep though, of course.)

Which takes me to the Frenchman. I had a hard time understanding a lot of what Emile de Becque was saying -- and singing -- as Marcelo Guzzo's affected accent, which I wouldn't exactly call French, was thick and deep throughout much of the play. It wasn't until the end of the first act that I finally warmed to the character, when Emile throws a towel over his head and imitates Nellie's dance moves during the reprise of "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair."

The rest of the cast is a delight to watch in the group numbers, namely the spirited seabees led by Luther Billis (Christian Marriner) who fling themselves about during "There Is Nothin' Like A Dame" and the other nurses, all dolled up in their 1940s swimsuits and hairdos.


"South Pacific" runs through Oct. 2 at the Boston Opera House, get tickets here.

Read the Globe review here. Do you plan to see "South Pacific"?

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